On Site: An Interview with Paul Tebben and Vladimir Radutny of SIDE architecture

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The architect is too often perceived as making demands from his minimalist ivory tower while sitting on his Barcelona chair and sipping an espresso. But Paul Tebben and Vladimir Radutny established SIDE architecture in 2008 to practice architecture by being involved in all aspects of creating a building, from design to completed construction. Tebben and Radutny, who met when working at Krueck + Sexton Architects, display an openness to learn new building methods, and their presence on site during a project is a distinguishable quality that sets their practice apart. Their vision to create thoughtful and meaningful projects for each client’s needs result in architecture that builds homes and community centers, not houses and public spaces.

I got the chance to interview Tebben and Radutny about their practice. Read the interview below, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Matthew Keeshin: What inspired you both to open a studio?

Vladimir Radutny: I wanted to have more control over the final decisions in design projects. I wanted to understand the intricacies of how a project begins and ends. A lot of times when you are in an office, whether it is K+S or another firm, you become just a part in a sequence of events, unless you are there for a very long time. For me at least, the experience I gained there became critical to our ability to launch a practice. It was a fun place to be and I learned a lot there. It reaffirmed our desire to build as much as possible and get stuff done.

Paul Tebben: The other thing we learned from them [K+S] was the idea that design doesn’t stop at the start of construction. The ability to have a presence on the construction site and really be an active agent, not just an overseer in that process and being a part of a project’s realization is essential for us. Having conversations with the tradesmen and contractors is absolutely critical. You can have a really great idea, but if your presence stops when construction starts, that great idea can be tarnished in infinite ways.

MK: How has having a very hands on approach and being involved in the entire construction process allowed you to experiment and explore ideas to further develop as a studio?

PT: For example, with our Planted Environment project, we were there on-site laying out the first courses of the wall assembly to show the contractor how we wanted it to be built, but we were also there to convince ourselves of the design prior to its implementation and calibrate it at that phase to determine, for example, if the gaps in the pattern should be 4 inches or 3 ¾ inches. We wanted to see with our own eyes what would work best. This engagement with the whole process is critical, from taking what we hope is a rich concept in the beginning and making it better at each step of construction. It’s not this elitist profession that people perceive it to be; you really have to roll up your sleeves and go to work.

VR: There is even more to it. Aside from the dialogue with sub-contractors and reaching out to various professions to see what’s possible, we have a genuine respect for the people with whom we work.  We are not above the people who are building the projects. They are a part of this bigger process and we need to engage them before construction; before it becomes real. Mistakes can come up, so it’s important to call manufacturers about a something like the size of a tube and understand why we are going to use it and learn. We really work at the idea and the execution because ultimately we want to it to become real. It’s something we also need to fully understand, and that’s the hands-on approach.

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Pure Imagination: An Interview with Wendell Castle

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Following up from our visit to the 20th annual Sculptural Object Functional Art (SOFA) + Design Fair, DRA had a chance to speak with the celebrated sculptor and designer Wendell Castle. As the demand for gallery-driven designed objects and furniture continues to grow, Castle’s singular aesthetic has remained one of the most desirable to collectors and collections for over 40 years. His pieces combine playful, free-form shapes with an expert level of skill. 

But more importantly, his original technique for stack-lamination, a process of gluing layers of wood together, continues to set him apart. Castle works off the cross-section of the design to guide where to stack and shape the wood to complete the furniture. And his process continues to incorporate new technology as well: the most recent addition to the studio is a 6-axis robot most commonly used for industrial and automotive manufacturing.

Castle is represented by Barry Friedman Ltd., who presented two chairs from Castle’s studio at SOFA 2013. The Triad Chair, a fiberglass chair in silver leaf, was a new edition of a design produced originally in gold leaf. The newest chair was a cantilevered seat with its base off to the side, making it look like it’s levitating. Constructed of stained ash, the one-off chair encapsulated all the characteristics of a classic Wendell Castle chair: expertly executed, expressive, and surprisingly ergonomic.

Castle arrived in style, straight from his Paris exhibition with the Carpenters Workshop Gallery. Jet-lagged, but alert, Castle discussed his new work and his early influences. Read the transcript below, edited for length and clarity.

Matthew Keeshin: What were you trying to do differently with these new pieces than with past pieces?

Wendell Castle: Well, I had actually thought about it and dealt with this issue earlier, but I think I resolved it better. I’ve been very interested in defying gravity. And of course, you really can’t defy gravity, you can only sort of play around with it. But there are a number of ways you can go about that. The way I’ve been pursuing it recently is that the obvious place to put legs is exactly where I will not place them. With a chair, the legs will not be under the seat; they’ll be over to the side or in the back. The chair will balance okay because the weight is distributed on another part that hits the floor. And the vocabulary I’ve been trying to express this in, I wanted to keep simple. Although in a sense it gets complex, there is just one element, and it is an ellipsoid.    

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Triad Chair, 2006, Fiberglass with silver leaf, 34 x 36 x 34 inches, Seat height: 13 1/2 inches

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Untitled, 2013, Stained Ash with oil finish, 31 1/4 x 41 3/4 x 34 1/4 inches

MK: Can you elaborate on that simple vocabulary?

WC: By simple, I mean this ellipsoid. The interesting thing about ellipsoids is the minute you begin to combine them or mush them into each other and see how they relate to each other in size and placement, you can do a lot of interesting things. And this little chair here does some interesting things. These objects have parts that are up off the floor. It’s the weight that makes it work and it doesn’t matter where the weight is on the floor or in the air. It functions the same, but visually, you wouldn’t know that. Things that are floating in the air; you don’t think of that as heavy.

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WENDELL CASTLE @ SOFA 2013

Wendell Castle, Triad Chair, Barry Friedman Ltd.

After EXPO Chicago, the city’s Navy Pier is busy again with the return of the Sculpture Objects Functional Art + Design fair, better known as SOFA. Marking its 20th anniversary, the fair is presenting several special exhibitions from various galleries and institutions, including new work by designer and craftsman Wendell Castle presented by Barry Friedman Ltd. Castle’s use of wood and fiberglass continue to push the boundaries on the intersection between art and design, and we’re looking forward to speaking with him at the fair. Stay tuned.

Pause and Effect: A Recap of A Better World by Design 2013

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You may recall our coverage of A Better World by Design 2012. This year, Siri Olson was there covering the annual event for DRA. Siri is a senior at Brown University concentrating in Architectural Studies and learning all she can about historical preservation and adaptive reuse.

BY SIRI OLSON

A Better World by Design celebrates design as a way to improve the world we live in and brings together designers, architects, educators, environmentalists, and the socially conscious to discuss and inspire. The annual three-day conference, co-hosted by Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design, is in its sixth year. This year’s theme was “Pause and Effect,” encouraging everyone to separate from their daily routines for a moment and rethink how we each approach design, our industries, and projects, and then how we can better effect the change we seek. I could not possibly attend every workshop or panel, so here are some standout moments and lessons from the three days of optimism and innovation.

Day One keynote speakers Julie Beeler and Brad Johnson invited the audience to “wonder, wander, get lost” on the journey from the starting idea to the imagined goal. Their company, Second Story, creates multimedia storytelling tools and exhibitions that get to the heart of an experience. In general, the theme of process-based design and the need to be receptive to new ideas and feedback occurred in nearly every presentation; Second Story’s talk suggested that design is half about having a good goal and half prototyping and challenging whatever path was supposed to achieve it.

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Living Modern: An Interview with Dan Tolson

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Since opening in 1992, Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) has continued to host auctions of the best 20th century Modern art and design. Embracing designers who called California home like Charles and Ray Eames, LAMA celebrates the West Coast and its influence on Modern designers and architects. As the Modern Art & Design Auction approaches this month, DRA was able to participate in an email interview with 20th Century Decorative Art & Design Director Dan Tolson. In 1998, Tolson began his career by founding the Modern Design department at PHILLIPS (formerly Phillips Auctioneers) in London. After developing the 20th Century Decorative Art & Design department at Christie’s Auctioneers in London, Tolson relocated to Los Angeles to become LAMA’s design director. We’re excited to share Tolson’s story on his influences and passion for the Modern era. Read the interview below.

DRA: Growing up, what inspired you and ultimately led you to work with 20th century decorative art & design?

DAN TOLSON: Even before I began collecting, I was acutely aware of good design. My earliest childhood memories are of crawling around my family home in Yorkshire, England during the mid 1970s. Our house wasn’t one of the ubiquitous Victorian, Edwardian, or faux-Georgian homes that predominate English towns, but one of the few modern open plan houses that briefly became fashionable from the late 1960s until the early 1970s. The memory of our bright lounge with its sea grass floor covering, Ikari ceiling lamp and large planters of giant leafed tropical plants, and my father’s own modern furniture designs, are forever etched into my mind. Sadly, in time, along with the rest of the nation, my parents taste moved away from modern French and Scandinavian design to Victoriana, but by then my heart was set on design.

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The Return of EXPO CHICAGO

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TEXT AND IMAGES BY MATTHEW KEESHIN
 
“You didn’t mention the parrots,” a gallery owner said to me, in reference to a studio afterparty the previous night.

“Really? I thought I did,” I replied.

That was the sign of the weekend ending for me at Wright Auction’s afterparty for EXPO CHICAGO.

Curators, dealers, collectors, artists, and enthusiasts all gathered to Chicago this month for the art fair’s sophomore year. Last year, I worked for a gallery during the art fair and had seen the fair installed from the ground up. Jeanne Gang’s Mylar jet engine-shaped installations occupied the ceiling at Navy Pier, and the fair was ready for lift off. But this time was different; the new car smell was gone. The focus shifted from making a grand entrance to maintaining Chicago’s status as an important city for contemporary art. Among the affordable satellite fairs, the fair offered a wide range of pieces from entry-level prices to the amazingly fantastic and unbelievably high prices we always hear about in the news. It honestly felt like the art and design community united together in Chicago to make the entire week of the fair vibrant and exciting.

An art fair offers something for everyone. For the dealers, a chance to sell work and develop new relationships with clients. For collectors, a chance to travel and explore a city. For professors, students, and enthusiasts, a chance to be inspired. Plus, the personalities that arrive with the art are as exciting and large as the pieces themselves. At the end of the day, an art fair is defined by its sales. However, the fashion and frenzy that art fairs feature sometimes make up the most memorable moments.

So here are a few illustrated moments from the wacky, beautiful, and hilarious week that was EXPO CHICAGO.

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Back to the Futura

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BY MATTHEW KEESHIN 

Archives are commonly thought of as old and dusty vaults, but the Chicago Design Archive, an online compendium of Chicago design, embraces its past to curate the present and future generations of Chicago icons. Each year, the Archive celebrates contemporary graphic design in Chicago by adding new works to their collection. Their Archive competition, sponsored by the Society of Typographic Arts (STA) and AIGA-Chicago, invites designers and students to submit projects for a place in the archive. The competition emerged ten years ago as a way to not only document and celebrate new, significant design, but to encourage discussion and self-evaluation within the design community.

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Coastal Classic: Jordan’s Design Bureau Article (July Issue)

Jordan here. I’m in the July issue of Design Bureau magazine with my article on architect Don Ritz’s Hull, Massachusetts beach house, which you can read here. Enjoy!

Day Job / Night Job: An Interview with Cameron Brand

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Designers like Plural’s Jeremiah Chiu and Chris Kalis have exemplified the intersection between design and music; the latest designer to do so is Cameron Brand. While not working at multimedia design studio Thirst, Brand, along with Chiu, Kalis, Harry Brenner, and Scott McGaughey, is part of Chicago electronic group Chandeliers. DRA was granted the opportunity to interview Brand as part of our Day Job / Night Job series that explores the multiple interests and occupations of artists and designers.

The interview was conducted by Andrew Hertzberg, a first time contributor to DRA. Hertzberg is a freelance writer in Chicago whose primary interests include literature and music. He, like us, is fascinated by the intersection between various media. He can be contacted at andhertz@gmail.com or on Twitter: @and_hertz. Read the transcript below.

Andrew Hertzberg: What do you do at Thirst?

Cameron Brand: Mainly web development. Making generative tools for designers if they have an idea on how to manipulate an image or text or something like that. We’ll work out a system, and I’ll make them a program that lets them make however many iterations that they want. I use processing for that and there’s a plugin for Adobe Illustrator called Scriptographer and I’ll make scripts with that. The thing that I’ve been calling it is “creative coding.” It’s kind of a silly name. I’m not really a programmer; I don’t have a computer science or engineering degree.

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Engineering the Past, Building the Future: An Interview with Mark Sexton

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Why is an architecture firm that so precisely adapts to the needs of the future so interested in the past? Founded in 1979, Krueck and Sexton Architects have not only been at the forefront of creating innovative architecture like The Spertus Institute and Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain, but of restoring the masterpieces of their predecessors. Most notably, the dynamic duo of Ron Krueck and Mark Sexton have restored Mies van der Rohe staples like the Illinois Institute of Technology’s (IIT) Crown Hall and 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments, cementing the two men as architects with a quality that their contemporaries so often lack: appropriate artistic reverence for the past. Not to mention their admirable collaborative spirit: in 2005, Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin famously wrote about the duo, “Unlike today’s solo-oriented ‘starchitects,’ Krueck and Sexton form a true partnership, relying heavily on their complementary talents. Krueck conceptualizes. Sexton questions. Krueck refines.”

We spoke to Sexton about the duo’s process in relation to restoring Mies van der Rohe’s buildings, as well as about his background, Krueck and Sexton’s role within the design community, and his advice for aspiring architects. Read the transcript below, edited for length and clarity.

DRA: When did you know you wanted to be an architect?

Mark Sexton: When I found out I wasn’t a good chemical engineer. During high school, I told a counselor, “You know, I think I want to be an architect,” and he said, “No, you don’t, they work their asses off and they don’t make much money.” I thought to myself, “That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.” He said, “Do you want to be a chemical engineer? You’re really good at science and math.” I said, “okay.” I started doing chemical engineering at IIT. They had a very good program. But after about six weeks, I realized I didn’t want to do engineering and switched to architecture.

DRA: Was the choice to go to IIT partially because you had an interest in architecture? Were you at all versed in Mies van der Rohe?

MS: I knew about the buildings, but I didn’t have a sense of them. I grew up in Riverside, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, so I was familiar with design and its integration into communities. I was very aware of Crown Hall as the most interesting building on campus. But I went there for engineering because it was something I felt I was good at. I’d always done lots of art: I’d make models, paint, watercolor, and sculpt. I thought the two disciplines—engineering and art—might be very interesting together, so that’s where I thought I’d go into architecture. However, the rigors of architecture turned me off, so I went back to engineering. But eventually, architecture was significantly more interesting.

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